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The FutureEverything art strand starts to wind up this weekend. Today, is the last day of Cu by Contents May Vary. If you’re based in Manchester and haven’t made it yet - I strongly recommend that you grab an hour at lunchtime or after work (it’s open til 2100), and head down to the Palace Hotel basement bar on Oxford Road. If you’re into contemporary art and like to see what emerging artists are getting up to, Cu is really worth checking out.
Contents May Vary is a Manachester based artists collective co-founded in 2004. They show collectively as well as individually and organise large scale exhibitions inviting other artists to participate. Currently run by Alice Bradshaw, Liz Murphy and Richard Shields, they like to find new and challenging ways to exhibit.
Contents May Vary describe Cu as a showcase for diverse and experimental contemporary art from national and international artists. The idea behind the exhibition is to raise questions and instigate dialogue around the the definitions, connections and disconnections at play between new media and visual art. How do we choose to define these terms? Where is the overlap? What commonalities do these worlds share? And how do we choose to discuss works that sit within and across these disciplines? In the context of the ‘art world’, I think the the exhibition does this pretty successfully.
Rather than go through each work individually, I thought I’d take a few of my favourites and look at these questions in a bit more detail.
Audio Almanac by Black Dogs is a compilation vinyl (that you listen to via headphones plugged into a record player) and includes music, recordings, collages and aural oddities. Tracks found on myspace in 2009, sit alongside old recordings from the 60’s and more unusual recordings that take your ears to places they’ve not been before. As well as listening, a crucial part of the experience involves browsing through the accompanying illustrated record sleeve to find out more about the track you’re listening to and decide where to go next. If I’d had time, I would have listened to the whole thing. It was just brilliant.
For me Audio Almanac combines the beauty and brilliance of analogue and digital experience in one. The iconic analogue form of the work (a record with player) prevents the ipod habit kicking in - flicking through tracks before you’ve even listened to them and skipping the associated art work. The digital element comes via the egalitarian vibe of the compilation. No one track is the obvious ‘hit’, each track is totally different from the last - it’s just a mix of ‘all sorts’ with surprises at every groove of the record. A bit like YouTube on vinyl.
In terms of the process of making, Black Dogs embody some of the best things that are amplified and made possible by the internet. They subscribe to a DIY ethos to making things, they self publish and they value active participation and collaboration. Politically, Black Dogs have a not-for-profit approach to producing and sharing their art too. The free-sharing of information, knowledge, skills and experience underpins the actions of the collective. They use methods that encourage collaboration both within the group and with the audiences who experience their ‘output’. And in doing their ‘art’ this way, Black Dogs say they are contributing toward a working alternative to capital-driven society.
Pete McPartlen’s I’m a Tape recorder Maniac!! (2010) was another one of my highlights. The work consists of a collection of video produced by YouTube user CassetteMaster, a Virginian teenager who collects vintage audio equipment. For each tape recorder he finds he films a dead-pan introduction, explains the features at length and tests them out in front of the camera. He also performs small experiments - routing mics through different decks, re-recording video from betamax or trying to sync audio from wobbly tapes with the digital video.
What I loved about this work that it presents a love and passion for the analogue (in this case tape recorders of all kinds) and DIY experimentation through the eyes of a ‘geek’ (an individual with a niche interest) and in doing so helps to amplify his generosity and knowledge.
The work also highlights the scale of technological change and development since the late 80’s and comments on the nature of our disposable society - as we acquire our new technologies, the old often end up on the scrap heap. CassetteMaster’s experiments and tinkering also open up a new future based on ideas of re-use that open up new possibilities for old technologies in a digital world. Interestingly - in this piece the artist plays the role of curator rather than ‘original producer’. A role that sees the artist using mainstream material (in this case YouTube videos) to present a view of the world and ask questions about it’s values, past and future.
- claire_w -
There were a number of sessions at the FutureEverything conference this year exploring play, collaboration and making things.
Doing it together explored new ways of working together. The idea behind the session was an acknowledgment that networked collaboration, the open sourcing of everything, and increasing ease of access to DIY technologies means an explosion of creativity that was never before possible is blossoming.
Ludic Interfaces discussed current artistic practices in the context of playful interfaces - taking the best from computer games, artistic experiments, interactive media, social networks and modding cultures - and resulting in tools that offer an ease of use and playfulness to cope with a rapidly changing society.
New Creativity shone a light on the different ways that we can play, collaborate, and create things that make a real impact on the world. This panel took a wide-ranging view of ‘making an impact’ while having fun, through the lenses of gaming, design, art, and the science of collective dynamics.
Looking back, I wish I’d attended the Ludic Interfaces session, but on the day I opted for New Creativity. Don’t get me wrong, the session I went to was great, and I got a lot out of it. Looking at people’s tweets though, I’ve got a feeling that Ludic Interfaces session was off the scale.
Designing the future we want
Anab Jain from Superflux talked about a recent design project that she had lead which involved working in collaboration with a team of 8 individuals and Brentford community to imagine and design ‘optimistic futures’. The question at the core of their collaboration was - what would you like on your street in the future?
Acres Green by Superflux
Called The Power of 8, the project dealt with many of today’s concerns including threats of economic crisis, looking after the environment environment and terrorism. The project describes itself as taking a DIY approach to ‘future making’ - outside of the world of politics and politicians.
By following a route of found hotspots that represented the shared concerns and hopes of the Power of 8 Team and the Brentford community, ideas for the design for a better future started to emerge.
Living hills in Acres Green
The outcome was the invention of a town called Acres Green. The key features of this imagined place were new pollinators, new weather and a new economy. Some of the designed solutions for the future included a new type of treethat grows many different fruits, a sustainable economy based on feral fruit collecting to make juice and cider to sell, the introduction of new synthetic pollinators like the Beamer Bee and manufactured microclimates and living hills that promote more flexible living.
Engaging artists, people and place
Buddleia is a new commissioning agency for art and public space, run by Kerenza McClarnan. Based in Manchester, the projects that come out of Buddleia involve artist-led inquiry of urban environments. The projects create space for conversations to happen between artists and communities.
Views of Cheetham Hill
Buddleia’s current project is called Cheetham Hill Project. Cheetham Hill is located on a hillside between Manchester and Prestwich, and emerged as a popular place for wealthy industrialists to build their homes in the 1850s. Today the shops and cultural life of Cheetham Hill is still extremely vibrant with representation from many ethnic diverse groups present on the high street. Over 22 languages are spoken within its 1 and a half radius and there are over 40 different places to worship.
Buddleia has invited four artists to spend time in Cheetham Hill to look around the area and start to formulate some ideas based on their time spent there. The selected artists are Can Altay (Istanbul, Turkey), Neville Gabie (Bristol, England) Alison Kershaw (Manchester, England) Jai Redman (Manchester, England)
Over the next four months these artists will spend time in the area, meet people and develop a proposal. Their ideas will be presented at the end of June 2010. Buddleia will look to seek further funding or co-commissioners to realise the projects.
Other projects that Kerenza McClarnan has commissioned include Procession with Jeremy Deller, which adressed ideas of ‘legitimate public’ and invited local social clubs, special interest groups, individuals with traditional processional stalwarts (such as Rose Queens and brass bands), local homeless people and children to get involved in a public procession in Manchester. And a site-specific work at Edge Hill Station, Liverpool where artists worked with the local community to transform and reclaim the station space. The project resulted in the installation of a pristine sculpted platform located in the station approach.
Create games to enable positive social change
Toby Barnes, Director of Mudlark and Adrian Hon, Director of Six to Start both run companies in the UKs Digital Game Industry. The interesting thing about their approach to game making is found in their desire to design fun games that reveal interesting things about people and the world we live in alongside pleasurable experiences that empower people do positive things that can sometimes make change.
Chromaroma by Mudlark, is a game that shows you your movements and location as you swipe your Oyster Card in and out of the Tube. The idea behind it is to encourage people to make new journeys and use public transport in a different way by exploring new areas and potentially using different modes of public transport.
Every journey means you amass points, taking a few steps further along the way to owning London. You collect places, identities, modes of transport and passengers as you travel around the city; discover and investigate mysteries attached to different locations and build alliances with fellow passengers that share your journeys. It’s a game you can play on your own, or part of a team.
A recent project by Six to Start, called ‘We Tell Stories’, is described as a groundbreaking experiment in digital storytelling. In this project the agency worked with top authors to tell and share stories through word of mouth.
Thanks to the compelling and viral nature of the content, over 200,000 people read the stories, generating massive amounts of press and almost 1800 blog posts. The 21 Steps, a thriller by Charles Cumming, uses Google Maps to show readers the movements of a desperate man caught up in a mysterious conspiracy. Hard Times, an ‘infographic story’ by author Matt Mason and designer Nicholas Felton, examines the effects of the internet on the world, through beautifully sharp infographics.
- claire_w -
Having attended this year’s FutureEverything conference, associated art exhibitions and the Art and Media conversation event at Castlefield Gallery, I have noticed a tension emerge between the worlds of media production and media art - particularly around questions of what media art is, who makes it and where we might find it.
Stuck between stations - Conference & Conversation
The conference, that took place at the Contact Theatre, was very much a broad church and digital affair. The fascinating individuals that shared ‘stuff’ with us, included media artists, interactive designers, game designers, scientists, academics and hackers. In this context, and depending on your view, today’s art can be found in many places, including games design, collaborative design projects, the code and visualisations of socially engaged hackers, cross over projects that link physical and digital space, DIY ‘maker’ projects, the sounds of electronic compositions, networked experience, location based tools and the science of nature and networks.
On the other hand, the associated Art and Media Conversation event that took place at Castlefield Gallery, involved a collection of practicing UK artists and curators. Folks who very much work, curate and exhibit within the borders of the ‘art world’. Chaired by Charlie Gere - a leading media art author and academic - it was a welcome session for media artists and curators to reflect upon and discuss ‘media art’. In this forum, art was generally found in site specific performance, in objects in galleries, in projects online, in site specific art and other interventions led by artists in public space.
What is media art?
In our discussion of art and art makers, there seemed to be a broad acknowledgment that the term ‘media art’ was not only difficult to define, it was potentially unhelpful too. As Charlie Gere describes in his article for Axis webzine, Media art (or how the web was won), if you take ‘media’ to refer to the means of mass communication, from radio and television through to the World Wide Web, that have come to dominate much of our cultural existence - then ‘media art’ is art that engages with the implications of such media, rather than merely uses them. So it’s art that explores issues of ‘media’ in terms of content, experience, tool and process, as well as (and probably more so), than art that explores ‘media’ as form. Looking back at the examples of projects that artists on the panel shared, it became apparent that many of today’s media artists don’t work with ‘media’ as form at all - and certainly not exclusively. As a result, their work can often be made sense of within the borders of visual art, live art, net art and site specific art too. Confused? Well keep reading…
Clockwise from top left - Karen Guthrie (Somewhere), Francis McKee (CCA Glasgow), Adam Sutherland (Grizedale Arts), Andrea Zapp (Manchester Met Media Arts Lab) and Charlie Gere. Other speakers included Bridget Crone (Media Arts Bath) and Kypros Kyprianou.
From Francis McKee’s view point (Director of CCA in Glasgow), another challenge posed by ‘media art’ is that it can be profoundly unpopular with audiences. ‘If you tell people that you’re exhibiting media art, many won’t come and see it. If you tell them you’re exhibiting art, not only do they come along, but they come with an open mind.’
Discussing the distinctions at play between media art and visual art, Andrea Zapp from Manchester Met Media Arts Lab described how she felt that ideas of ‘media art’ were in part constructed by the ‘media art festival scene’, out of a need to make themselves seen and heard in the 90’s. From this standpoint, the term ‘media art’ was catalysed by a perceived clash with established ideas of art and a need for the development of a new form of critical vocabulary built around ideas of media - at a certain point in time. Again, referring back to Charlie Gere’s article Media art (or how the web was won), examples of media art can be found as early as 1960 - making it an example of art practice that is at least half a century old.
Media art and its maker
In terms of ‘who makes media art’ - the panel went on to discuss how comfortable they each felt, considering creative producers that work outside of the ‘art world’, as ‘art makers’.
Unsurprisingly, different members of the panel had different feelings about this. Karen Guthrie, who has worked as an artist within and around the UK ‘media art’ scene since the mid 90’s (and runs Somewhere with Nina Pope), described that her own understanding is less concerned with where someone has trained, and more about the work they produce and the role they play in society. From Karen’s view point, artists are people that find the cracks in our world, they highlight the spaces in life that nobody is noticing, and in doing so, they discover new things and sometimes instigate change.
For Adam Sutherland, Director of Grizedale Arts - an artist is someone who uses ‘art’ to articulate their ideas. For Adam, one of the most important elements of knowing if something is art or not can be found in the thinking behind a work. Is it responding to a question posed by the complexities of contemporary society? And does it help us to see and understand the world around us in new ways?
What does the FutureEverything art strand tell us?
Taking a lead from the FutureEverything art strand, it seems that we can find media art almost anywhere. We can find it on our TV screens, in our galleries, in our collective imaginations, on the internet, in shops, in our inventions, on our phones and in the street.
Martin John Callanan’s A Planetary Order (2009) is a data visualisation that takes a sculptured form. A Planetary Order is a 3D globe that replicates a series of images of the Earth’s atmosphere taken from space. It visualises cloud formations around the Earth from a single moment in time, and in doing so, attempts to highlight the fragility and interdependence of the Earth’s environmental systems. In terms of it’s place in the ‘media art debate’, this work couldn’t take place without the existence of cameras, networked technologies and satellites. On the other hand, in taking the form of a sculpted object (made from SLS nylon), the work feels very much at home in the context of the gallery and can be easily understood as a form of ‘visual art’ too.
A Bicycle Built for Two Thousand by Aaron Koblin and Daniel Massey
A Bicycle Built for Two Thousand by Aaron Koblin and Daniel Massey is a web based work comprised of 2,088 individual voice recordings of the song Daisy Bell. Collected via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an online market place for ‘work,’ workers were paid $0.06 to listen to a short sound clip and then record themselves imitating what they had heard. Each person’s recording represented a different note from the song. When played together, these notes composed a collective rendition of the song Daisy Bell. In terms of its message, A Bicycle Built for Two Thousand explores ideas around the power of networked participation and the wisdom of crowds. In using Mechanical Turk as a tool in the production of the work, A Bicycle Built for Two Thousand also highlights the emergence of a new kinds of marketplace and modes of ‘work’ made possible by the Internet.
Remember me by TOTeM (2010)
Finally, Remember me by TOTeM, was a site specific work located in Oxfam on Oxford Road. When people brought things in, to donate to the shop, TOTeM would ask them to record a memory to attach to their object. These recordings were then tagged to items using RFID and QR codes, which customers could scan and replay as they browsed the rails. As part of this work, TOTeM also offered iPhone and Android apps to allow shoppers to access the story for years to come. In terms of it’s message the work explores the relationship at play between public, private and consumer space. It also plays around with the potential social impact of the semantic web and the ‘Internet of Things.’
Where does this leave us..?
From listening to a lot of smart people over the course of four days, it seems to me that there are many sides to the media art debate.
What I’ve worked out so far is that I love art that references and explores the world of which it is a part, and I value art that provides alternative perspectives on what it means to be human – in wonderful, weird and intelligent ways. I acknowledge that technological developments and disruption and media forms continue to be significant in shaping our world. And I’m interested in work that helps me to experience and understand the world around me in new ways. I don’t believe that art is exclusively made by people with a background in ‘fine art’, and I don’t think that to ‘be art’, something has to be experienced in the context of a gallery.
I thought I’d round up with something that Fransis McKee said in the Art and Media conversation event. ‘Setting aside ideas of ‘media art,’ one way of working out if something is art or not is to put it in a gallery and ask audiences what they think’. I really love this idea and I think the FutureEverything art strand has taken this approach and moved it on even further. The art I’ve experienced over the course of this Festival has cropped up in galleries, on phones, in shops, in hotels, on the streets and online. By putting today’s art ‘out there’ for people to experience in different ways - FutureEverything has put forward a proposition of contemporary art to audiences and asked them to consider - is this art? From where I’m standing on the sidelines, contemporary UK art is in a very exciting place.
- claire_w -
Me and Robert Willim got involved in a collaboration by coincidence with artist Hafsah Naib, Artist in residency, Moments of Breathing With You.
The video can be seen here - http://vimeo.com/11716869
- Anders Weberg -
Thursday 13 May 2010
davelynch: http://interactive.bis.gov.uk/digitalbritain/growing concerns about the potiential harsh concequences of britians digital act at #futr
Friday 14 May 2010
_ claire_w -
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